Eeveryone loves babies, don’t they, with their tiny tiny toes and the fact that they just don’t do anything and constantly do those weird dark poops. “This is my baby,” friends will tell me, pointing to a small bundle of skin and flesh that screams for no reason, “I love her so much I could die.”
Does the baby do tricks, I always ask, and they shake their heads, no. “We think in maybe 18 months the baby could learn to walk,” they say. “Can get a full sentence out of it around three o’clock.” Cool, well, see you in 18 years when you can go back to the pub.
Babies are the talk this week, with two stories that – if you squint and watch closely – are absolutely and completely related. “Britain’s ‘baby shortage’ could lead to economic decline, says the think tank,” says one, and there’s some interesting Social Market Foundation stuff in there. The current birth rate of 1.58 in England and Wales is well below the replacement level of 2.1 needed, meaning that by 2060 there will be almost four over 65 for every 10 workers (assuming of course the millennials will be allowed to retire: seeing how we’ve been trapped in literally every other possible stage of life beyond “living around the time of smartphones”, I don’t not really see this happening). This will open a support gap which will inevitably lead to economic decline.
However, conversely, we are told: “Four in 10 young people fear having children because of the climate crisis. Which has its own meaning. Why have a baby now – love him, take care of him, teach him math on a dinner table even if he refuses to have math: it’s a bit very simple math, Henry! – when you know that one day he will have to use his combat skills to fight for a gallon of water as the sun approaches the scorched desert planet? To me, this seems like an insane waste of the last 20 years of viable time we have on Earth.
Why don’t millennials have babies? And while we’re at it, why don’t they buy houses? Well we’ve come to the point where the economic reality of Britain has finally overcome the primal lizard brain urge that we all have to breed. It seems like a stupid, impossible question: hey, the 34 year old still paying off your student loans and rent, can you hurry up and have a baby please? The future of the economy depends on it. And no, we’re not going to do anything to make things easier while you’re doing it. Work harder.
The Social Market Foundation made a pretty humble suggestion to overcome the birth rate problem, which is – and I’m paraphrasing, “Stop making it so incredibly difficult and expensive to have and care for a child.” The National Childbirth Trust calculates the average cost of a full-time childcare for a child under two at £ 263 per week, which, even with both working parents, is a significant chunk of the average family budget. If you want to keep your child past that age, or even have another one, for whatever reason, those costs will only add up.
I know there is a viable environmental argument for not having children, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from always wanting to have them, and it seems weird that we are making it so difficult for those who do. The foundation estimates that working UK parents spend 22% of their income on full-time childcare, double the average for other Western economies; a 2019 Unicef report found that the UK paternity leave provision was still at an embarrassing level, compared to other countries ”; and a survey of over 20,000 UK parents conducted in July and August this year found that only 16% of mothers had their tenure at work and their income unaffected by having a child (two-thirds had reduced their hours).
Although I don’t think any parent came out of the lockdown saying, “Wow! Home schooling my kid while juggling my work’s Infinite Zoom calls was super easy! I really enjoyed it! There is at least an opportunity for more flexible home work schedules that could accommodate childcare now that many people know how to do their homework. But then, it does not directly benefit business owners, so bosses and policy makers are not in favor of it. Parenting is just being awake all the time and spending all your money, and that’s before you’ve done anything like buying shoes or a uniform or those Nerf Blasters they’re all crazy about.
Yet at least it’s a comeback: you know nature really heals when millennials are accused of not thriving in an economic reality that seems explicitly designed to destroy them. At some point – when schoolyards are desperately empty, and no one has paid stamp duty for years, and all of Pret’s inner cities have had to close due to inactivity – they will have to admit. that “buying and consuming avocado toast” was not the problem they thought it was from the start. Until then: please fuck the millennials! The future of the economy is built on the blood of your heirs!
Joel Golby is a writer for The Guardian and Vice and the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant